Manchester United made a winning start to life under Jose Mourinho, brushing aside Wigan Athletic 2-0 at the DW Stadium in the club’s opening preseason friendly. Summer signings Henrik Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly both made positive impressions on their first appearances in a United shirt, but it was second-half goals from youth products Will Keane and Andreas Pereira that decided the contest.
A large number of Manchester United fans had made the short trip across Greater Manchester to witness the start of the Mourinho era. They quickly showered the former Chelsea boss with support, chanting “Jose Mourinho” in a manner that had been heard so often at Stamford Bridge down the years, and at one point calling on the Portuguese to give them a wave.
After three years of disappointing results and even less inspiring performances under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, there is a sense of enthusiasm at least that Mourinho, a league title winner wherever he has been, can return to glory days to England’s most successful club. Also providing encouragement to supporters is the way, unlike previous summers, United have gone about their transfer business swiftly in this window.
Three signings have already arrived, and, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains on break after Euro 2016, Mkhitaryan and Bailly impressed on Saturday. Mkhitaryan was particularly lively in his 45 minutes on the pitch. Playing in the No. 10 role, the arrival from Borussia Dortmund was a class above every other player on the pitch in the first half, showcasing some silky touches and a turn of pace to break between the lines.
He should have had at least one assist to his name, too. Twice he played fine balls through to Memphis Depay, but the winger, who badly needs to impress this preseason after a difficult first campaign at Old Trafford, squandered the opportunity on both occasions. Mkhitaryan himself was also culpable in front of goal. Found by Jesse Lingered with a clear sight of goal, the Armenian fired the ball over the bar with the sort of miss that was characteristic of his first two seasons at Dortmund rather than his prolific last campaign.
It meant United fans witnessed a sight that was far too common last season under Van Gaal: going into halftime still goalless. Preseason, though, and especially the opening match, is, of course, about far more than the result. With England internationals like Wayne Rooney as well as David de Gea and Ibrahimovic still resting up after Euro 2016, the contest was little more than a glorified training exercise ahead of more challenging contests in China against Dortmund and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
The playing time was particularly useful for Luke Shaw, who made his first outing in a Manchester United shirt since suffering a horrific broken leg last September. Shaw was among the seven players replaced at halftime and it was with the new-look team that Mourinho managed to score a win on debut.
Two of the substitutes combined to break the deadlock four minutes after the interval. Juan Mata, whose future has been the subject of much speculation ever since Mourinho, the man who sold him to United from Chelsea, was appointed, intercepted a sloppy clearance from veteran goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen and laid the ball on a plate for Keane to finish.
Nine minutes later, a far more spectacular second goal arrived. After a low free-kick into the box fell his way, Pereira turned in an instant and struck and unstoppable effort high into the net.
Further changes followed, including taking off defender Bailly to a well-earned round of applause after a throughly composed display, and the rest of the minutes were played out to little incident. By the final whistle Mourinho was left to reflect on a comfortable start to a reign that will feature plenty more stressful challenges ahead.